This review is courtesy of Raymond Chandler: It’s the classic action-spy story, it has learned nothing, and forgotten nothing. It’s a story you’ll find taking up spaces in Multiplexes for two generations now, paying lip service to the value of individual honour in a world patently without it – the murky world of the spy. Perhaps the cutting is a little more dynamic, the dialogue less wooden. They talk about computers now instead of launch codes, but the basic currency of the half true but mostly noble lie of “the greater good” and “security in the free world” remains the same. The locations are ever more exotic and the budget for the car chase that kicks off the closing act may be bigger. But fundamentally it is the same old story of good intentions turned evil by paranoia and obsession, the same inevitable betrayal of those expendables not in the inner circle of power. We’re left with the same dazed feeling that in the world portrayed of perfect information, even the truth is a lie. It’s not a very fragrant world, but it is the world our fantasies of power live in.
And at the centre of it all is the man, always a man, for whom a heroine is sacrificed to galvanise him into action, the redemptive action which will for a time set the plotting in abeyance and allow ordinary citizens to live out their lives. At least until the next time. He is inevitably a lonely man, who can trust nobody, but whom nevertheless we can trust implicitly to do the right thing at the right time. He must have the common touch, the common sensibilities of our world – neither a satyr nor a paladin. I could go on – Chandler certainly does in the original.
This film does nothing to earn anything other than a glib dismissal as another vapid example of a long-dead genre, the ultimate zombie, merely retrofitted with the latest shiny Macguffin in the store. Alfred Hitchcock would have balked at some of the excesses of violence, but the scenario and the moving parts would have been perfectly in his bailiwick. Reaching further back, nothing in this film is fundamentally beyond the circumscription of Baroness Orczy’s imagination. I think, I hope, there’s a film out there of spies in the modern world, but this isn’t it. And of course, that’s why my reading of this film fails – I’m sure it did what it wanted to do efficiently and purposefully, but it wasn’t what I wanted, what I hoped for. I wanted them not to kill poor Julia Stiles, I wanted the bad guys to be honestly-intentioned, I wanted the film to look into Bourne’s future rather than re-tread his worn out past, I wanted so much. The Bourne Identity reinvented the spy for the modern world by making him human – and if this film couldn’t do the same trick by making him modern, I wanted at the very least for it to remember that, but Bourne is now a pure automation, and this “franchise” (god, how I hate that term) has literally nothing to offer me anymore.